News today that the O Bar and the Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate will finally close on Sunday 4th October.

Good news however that the bar’s current general manager will be reopening a new bar to be known as The Twisted Spoon from Friday 9th October. More news is promised in due course, but I understand the Orange Tree group is looking at possibilities for re-establishing their craft beer and American barbecue offering in another location in the county.

I know that in the short term, Smokehouse chef Liam Watson is looking at going travelling, not least to extend his chef’s education with other international cuisines.  I look forward to hearing more from all concerned on what happens next.

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Back to The Smokehouse

January 19, 2015

If you scroll back through this blog you’ll find a couple of positive write-ups of  The Smokehouse on Braunstone Gate, Leicester.  When it came to visiting – anonymously  – for my Leicester Mercury review I was a bit nervous whether the novelty of Southern US barbecue might have worn off or the quality fallen.  Fortunately that wasn’t the case – in fact it was possibly the most enjoyable food I’ve yet had there. I maybe got a little bit carried away in the review but my ox cheek starter was a quite spendid dish. Speaking to chef Liam Watson after the meal it was good to hear he’s got plenty of ideas for introducing new and possibly more adventurous dishes.  I’m looking forward to seeing where they can take it.

You can find the review here.

A crafty move by the O Bar

October 17, 2014

WP_20141016_18_05_48_ProI was at the relaunch of The O Bar on Braunstone Gate last night – now re-engineered as a specialist craft beer bar. It’s an intriguing move in the context of Braunstone Gate, which spent the 90s as the hip end of town, but in the last decade has lost some of its distinctiveness.

The O Bar, the late-night bar of the Orange Tree group, started to reassert itself last year by using its upstairs as a pop-up American barbecue restaurant The Smokehouse. It turned out such a success it was made a permanent fixture, but that left the downstairs bar “not quite right” according to director Gareth Smith (some might know him as Pugsy). With people travelling from beyond the West End for the food, an improved drinks offer made sense too. Gareth credits his dynamic general manager Phil for the brave decision to go the whole hog and chuck out not only the Carling, but the Becks and the other big brands and go fully on craft beers – for sale in thirds and two-thirds – and real ales.

Along with this chef Liam from the Smokehouse upstairs is now providing a limited bar menu downstairs  – pulled pork buns, kielbasa hotdogs loaded with chilli, onions and mustard, hot wings, ribs and nachos. So far it’s mainly been supplying the overflow from the restaurant but there’s scope to attract non-diners who nonetheless fancy a bite as they sip those fancy beers.

O bar craft beers

Craft beer tasting at The O bar

It’s a brave move because no doubt some will alienated by the unfamiliar beers and, you can’t avoid it, the considerably higher prices. What can’t be denied is there are some really fantastic beers on sale. The sublime Jaipur many people will know all about, but there’s many more – The Capt Ruhstaler Black IPA, clocking in at a hefty 7.6 per cent, looks like a stout but explodes with bright citrussy flavours on the palate. Founder’s All Day IPA is a more quaffable 4.7 per cent but still packs a heavyweight hop punch. Look out too for the burnt-toffee dark lager from Freedom and the Helles and pale ale from the award-winning Sara Barton of Brewster’s in Grantham.

I certainly wish them all the best  – this distinctive independent offering is an important antidote to the safe familiarity on offer in most of the City Centre. And as Gareth said to me in relation to the bar scene:  “Leicester has tended be the poor relation of Nottingham – it’s up to the likes of us to try and address that.”

Smokehouse here to stay

April 29, 2014

Sorry about the radio silence all – hope to get my blogging mojo back soon. One quick piece of good news today  – the Smokehouse at the O Bar (which  I’ve written about enthusiastically a couple of times now) is to become a permanent fixture. “Customers have really voted with their feet, so we’ve opted to keep the Smokehouse open,” said Orange Tree Group director Ben Hings.

Congratulations then to chef Liam Watson who has developed the American barbecue concept over two periods as a pop-up. He and his new sous will also be taking their smoker out to a number of events this summer, starting with the Westival street music festival around Braunstone gate this coming weekend and the Summer Food and Drink Festival at the Leicester market on  25 may.

It was no surprise to see the Smokehouse come back for another run at Braunstone Gate’s O Bar.  The feelgood Southern barbecue food seemed to be a big hit – certainly was with me – and there was definitely something added by the catch-it-while-you-can nature of the pop-up.

Camden Wheat beer  - flavoured with lemon and bergamot

Camden Wheat beer – flavoured with lemon and bergamot

On Tuesday night I went down with Rob  – who hadn’t managed to get along before and was, it must be said, a little sceptical about the whole enterprise.  He was, though, definitely won over and was last seen walking back towards Hinckley Rd getting straight on social media to enthuse.

Camp-fire goodness

Camp-fire goodness

The menu is more or less the same with a few tweaks. Rob had one of the new starters – chicken, potato and sweetcorn hash. It was a big old plate of campfire goodness – with chunks or barbecued corn sliced roughly of the cob all adding to the rustic feel. It was probably over-seasoned, but with flakes of excellent sea-salt so you didn’t really mind – it just made the excellent craft beers even more welcome. I had the scorched mackerel, marinated in a coriander pickle – a more refined dish, with  tasted cured flesh and crispy flamed skin.

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Pulled pork - being chased by a fork

Pulled pork – being chased by a fork

The “Big Smoke” mains are not subtle  – and not meant to be – but you do get hits of intriguing flavours, from coriander to fennel to the divine crunchy pickled cabbage and onions.  I had the pulled pork, cooked for 14 hours, which came two ways – pretty much straight out of the marinade and in chilli con carne form. None of it was overly spicy – more a late-arriving, smoky warmth – and it was all tender and gorgeous. Rob had the sliced brisket (just the 12 hours in the smoker for this one), a mountain of which came in a fantastic brioche bun. I’d say the gravy with the beef was maybe overly sweet but the flavour of the beef still came though and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable dish. We had sides of a potato baked in salt crust slathered in a herby garlic butter  – simply wonderful – and as a concession to our five-a-day, fennel and jalapeno slaw, which seemed to have less smoke on the fennel than I remember but still a great salad.

The one thing I was looking forward above all to reacquainting myself with was the sticky toffee and maple pudding – and it wasn’t a let down.  Excellent sponge surrounded by the most ambrosial lake of salted caramel and bourbon sauce. As the good quality vanilla ice-cream started to melt into that sauce I was reflecting there was no more pleasureable experience available in Leicester that night (please don’t tell me about it if you think there was).

Oh my...

Oh my…

So newbies or old timers, you’ve got another chance. It will be around for a few weeks – maybe longer if the bookings really fly in – so if it sounds like your thing, don’t hang around. I think you’ll enjoy it. More details here.

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